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Is Love in the Stars?

In an academic world where jobs are fleeting and few and far between, the ideal job candidate is footloose and “family-free,” writes Katie Mack, an astrophysics postdoc at the University of Melbourne, who says she once overheard a couple of senior professors say as much while discussing a candidate for a senior lectureship. While no hiring-committee member would ever admit to such thinking, there’s little doubt that the “academic career structure is built around an assumption of mobility” that’s at odds with the formula for fostering a lasting relationship, Mack says.

She knows this firsthand. Few people have embraced the peripatetic academic lifestyle to the extent that Mack has—she’s moved from the United States to England to Australia in pursuit of a professorial career. Like so many tenure-track hopefuls, she’s partner-free, has her passport in hand, and is prepared to go wherever the posts or postdocs are. But while she’s been lucky thus far in her career, she’s been unlucky in love, thanks in large part to all that academic moving around.

Of course, “anyone can be unlucky in love, even if they stay in the same city their entire lives,” she’s quick to note. But the temporary contracts that are an increasingly common fact of academic life these days “mean that when you arrive in a new country, if you’re interested in finding a long-term partner, you have something like two years to identify and convince a person you’ve just met to agree to follow you wherever you might end up in the world, and you won’t be able to tell them where that will be.” Sure, there are ways to make it work, she writes: You could resign yourself to tele-relating via Skype, spend your salary on plane tickets, refuse to date other scholars, or take your chances and hope you don’t end up having to pick between your partner and a post (like so many academics are forced to do).

Perhaps that’s why, for the time being, Mack, who has two years left on her contract and no idea where in the world she’ll end up next, says she’s taking it slow: “I’m still trying to figure out if I can manage to keep a pet.” (The Research Whisperer)

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